Officiating is a Tough Duty

Giving thanks to great officials, who have a hard job

By Jeff Epperly

You have to admire officials. Boy, do they take a beating from the fans, players, and coaches. When they do make the right call, very seldom do they get praise for their timely judgment. The only time they hear anything is when they make a questionable call that everyone reacts to with various levels of vocal criticism. In my opinion, it is a thankless job that requires great character to handle all the emotions that seem to come from every direction.

With that said, the burden of an official is to get things right. It is not an easy task for anyone to do with consistency, especially with an audience who is hanging on every call you make after blowing your whistle to stop the action. Talk about calling attention to yourself! And, as we know, the most constant complaint at any game no matter the sport is poor officiating. Unfortunately, it’s the times they don’t get it right that everyone remembers. 

When they do get it right, no one says anything and no one remembers. In fact, the best officials don’t draw attention to themselves, don’t react to fans, coaches, and players, and ultimately are not remembered as even being part of the game. An experienced official told me once that the best compliment he could ever get was that he went unnoticed during the game as if he wasn’t even there.

Yes, officiating is a tough duty. I admire those who step into the fray and put themselves on the line. I know I have been critical of officials over the years, especially when I sense incompetency and/or carelessness. As a coach, this is my biggest concern — not that officials will make mistakes or even make a bad call at a critical time, but that they will be consistently poor, potentially affecting the outcome of the game. And believe me, this has happened several times over the course of my playing and coaching career. 

Obviously, I don’t believe officials want to officiate poorly, but other things can get in the way of making good judgments. We all make poor judgments in a variety of areas in our lives, only to regret them later, and I am sure many officials have had regrets over the years. In fact, this year an official apologized after a game, admitting that his performance was terrible and he would try to do better next time. He said he just flat out lacked ability to focus on the game and get into it. He went on to say that he needed to get himself mentally ready to officiate if he was going to do a consistently good job.

What I have noticed, however, is that really good officials have humility. Now, this is from my perspective and you may disagree, but the good ones, in my mind, remove their ego from their task. They have a serving mentality. When this is the mode of operation for an official, it is extremely disarming and engendering of good feelings by most in attendance, especially players and coaches. I think this aforementioned official has that humility and will do better.

We should all be thankful for the men and women who continue to pursue this work when it seems to be laced with constant criticism in a very public forum. The criticism sometimes is so severe that it discourages others from entering into this very important work. In fact, there is a shortage of officials statewide for various sports, particularly football and basketball. And, no doubt, it is the fear of ridicule and lack of respect for these men and women in stripes that prevents others from jumping in.   

I could give you a list of some of my favorites over the years, and believe it or not, it would be quite long. Many of these high-quality officials have come from right here in the Flathead Valley. To you and all those who will become great officials, I say, “Thank you!” Thank you for putting yourself on the line, for serving the game, and for being there for our youth.